The significant role of fish in the Christian religion is evident in the Holy Bible, where we find dozens of references to them. We see this Christian symbol in Matthew, Luke, Mark, and John, particularly. You will encounter this in various stories like the feeding of the 5,000 and the time Jesus first called on his disciples.
But why does a fish signify Jesus? How did the fish become a Christian symbol? And what is the importance of the Jesus fish symbol today?
What Does The Christian Fish Symbol Mean?
The fish, which many people might have encountered in this shape (<><), is derived from the Greek letters for fish, ichthys or ichthus, which is clarified more clearly in the acrostic format IXNYY (with the N reversed), which is translated to the following:
- I – Iesous or Iota (meaning Jesus)
- X – Christos or Chi (meaning Christ)
- N – Theta or Theou (meaning God)
- Y – Yidos/Huios or Upsilon (meaning Son)
- Y – Soter or Sigma (meaning Savior)
In a literal sense, the fish means the statement “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior.” A few studies suggest that the fish emblem initially showed up in the first century, possibly even before the period Jesus suffered on the cross, although nothing has been established as to when the image and its symbolic significance first appeared.
Why Does A Fish Symbolize Jesus?
The original Greek word for fish, ichthus, refers directly to “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior.” The Christian fish image recounts various incidents from the ministry of Jesus which makes this one of the known religious symbols.
Jesus presented his disciples with an extraordinary miracle draught of fish twice (John 21:4–6; Luke 5:4–7). After his resurrection, he consumed fish with his followers on two separate occasions (John 21:13; Luke 24:42).
On top of that, a fish took part in the miraculous act of Jesus involving a temple coin (Matthew 17:27). And lastly, the feeding of the 5,000 began with a fish-filled meal (Matthew 14:15–21; 15:32–38).
Jesus Fish Symbol Origin And Facts
The ichthys (the fish symbol) originally showed up in Christian literary and artistic works in the second century. The usage of the emblem among Christians became common by the end of the 2nd century and grew greatly in the following two centuries.
Throughout the early period of Christianity, the ichthys symbol carried “the most holy significance,” and Christians used it to recognize churches and other devotees throughout an era of persecution during the Roman Empire.
In line with that, in the work of Garth S. Jowett and Victoria O’Donnell, Propaganda & Persuasion, they mentioned that in its early usage, when Christians faced persecution under Roman rule, the fish symbol served as a covert emblem. It succinctly and powerfully embodied the mission of the community it represented.
Use Of The Fish Symbol
Throughout the Christians’ Roman persecution in the first century, they used the fish symbol in secrecy to mark meeting spots and venues of worship. They might be found on trees, doorways, and even gravestones. The ichthys also became popular in a variety of religions, ancient churches, and groups, therefore, it did not raise suspicions regarding its true meaning.
Furthermore, the Christian fish can be used to detect whether a person is a true Christian or a threat. Christians would draw half of the fish in the ground and wait for the other person they were with to reply.
If nothing unfolded, it would mean that this person was not one of them, but if the other person drew the picture of the fish into the sand, it was apparent that they were Christians as well and that they could safely communicate with one another.
How Did The “Jesus Fish” Become A Symbol Of Christianity?
The fish symbol was first linked with Christianity during the second century when the fish became a true secret symbol that enabled Christians to meet. As a matter of fact, believers felt that, since Jesus was a “fisher of men,” the image was the perfect sign to tell to their fellow believers that they needed to get together. The ichthys fish symbol helps them in determining the place and time of the planned meeting.
But as time went on, the sign bore even more meaning in modern Christianity. The definition of ichthys is more of a symbol of Christian ideals and faith. It serves as a representation of the Son of God, Jesus Christ himself, and numerous Christians feel that it reflects far more than its humble origin during the early days of Christianity.
What Is The Fish Symbol’s Use And Importance Today?
As the Christian fish symbol became well-known again in the 1960s, even those who don’t identify as Christians started using the symbol as a pop culture reference, putting it on sweaters, business cards, or having it tattooed on their body. Nowadays, looking at this Christian fish image reminds us of Jesus as well as his wish for every single one of us to become “fishers of men.”
This awareness of the Christian fish in our minds allows each of us to be a better person, and improve our lives, as well as our personal choices. This also reminds us of those people who used this image to worship God even when it was forbidden and punishable by death. The basic shape of a fish held Christianity alive and thriving during a dark period in history.
It is a very iconic picture of the faith that we all cherish—the belief that the Father sent Christ to the world to demonstrate his love and suffer for our sins. It is to ensure that we can be restored to God by embracing the sacrifice of Jesus and the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Learning the ichthys fish symbol and its connections to the early Christians allows us to gain a deeper understanding of the old founding principles of faith and ancient Christian beliefs. It shows us how believers have used them over the centuries.
Put to heart everything we’ve discovered about the Christian fish, and let it guide us to make the right choices every day. As we discover more about the meaning behind this symbolic sign, the aim is that we will be inspired to be a “fisherman,” bringing people closer to Jesus and God’s unconditional love.